Erica Gillingham reviews Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden


“Have you ever felt really close to someone? So close that you can’t understand why you and the other person have two separate bodies, two separate skins? I think it was Sunday when that feeling began.”

Let me give you a little background on me before I tell you how awesome Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden really is: I research love and romance in LGBT YA novels. Which means that I read a lot of love stories about gay teenagers. Which really means that I’m a big ol’ sap. A novel with a sweet, compelling love story makes me swoon faster than you can say, “Kiss me.” Which is basically to warn you that this post may contain a large amount of gushing.

The other thing you need to know about my review of Annie On My Mind is that I avoided reading it for, well, a long time. My dismissive thinking went a little something like this: ‘it was published in 1982, two years before I was born! C’mon, it can’t be that exciting now. Really, how good is this “classic” going to be? A YA novel published in the 1980s must have been so censored that reading it will be such a chore—you don’t even get explicit scenes in YA published in 2012!’ (Yes, sometimes my inner monologue does remind me of the teenage characters I read about, but in the spirit of being with you honest with you on the Internet, I was thinking stuff like that.)

Which is why I feel it is so important to admit that I was being a big ol’ AGEIST when it came to actually cracking the spine on my 25th anniversary edition copy.

I want to stand up in front of all you lovely Lesbrary readers, own up to all of scathing prejudice and snarky disbelief, and admit: GIRL, I WAS SO WRONG.

Annie On My Mind is an incredible young adult novel with a sweet, sweet love story. It blows my mind that it was published in 1982—amongst so much fear and misinformation about homosexuality—but it boggles my mind even more that there aren’t MORE YA novels like it published by now.

To set up the story, Liza and Annie meet in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Annie is singing her heart out in a deserted wing and Liza, an architectural student, has come to take a look around the museum. They come from different socio-economic backgrounds and very different school situations and yet that does not pose any significant issue to their relationship. The attraction is instant and their friendship builds swiftly.

The major drama of the story revolves around the strict rules and image of Liza’s private school as it is in danger of closing for financial reasons. As you can imagine, all of the students and faculty (hint hint: there are more lesbians than meets the eye) must be on their utmost behaviour during such a funding crisis, i.e. any bad news is all bad news for the school. The other barrier to their relationship is Liza’s coming out process. To be fair, though, I have read much more tortured and dramatic coming out stories. Liza’s, in contrast, feels real in the time it takes for her to accept herself and open herself up—fully—to her relationship with Annie.

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of page space given over to the sexual desires and acts between Liza and Annie. Sure, it’s not explicit sex scenes, but no one can argue that those two seventeen year old girls don’t have a healthy sex life! Some teenagers do have a high sex drive, especially when they fall in deeply in love for the first time, and it was refreshing for me to read that in a YA novel.

When reading it, I do think it is relevant to remember that it was published in the 1980s. Some of the references and ‘ways of life’ are no longer as common today—who has recently pierced their ears with a needle and a potato instead of going down to the mall?!—but the story itself isn’t dated. The relevance of a love story never ages, and this one really does deserve the title of ‘classic.’

Editor note: Also check out Danika and Ana’s conversation about this book, and Danika’s notes about this book!

Erica is a MPhil/PhD Student researching love and romance in LGBT YA literature. She is currently running an Indiegogo campaign, “Made with Love,” to fund the second year of her program. More info can be found on her website.

Erica Gillingham reviews She Loves You, She Loves You Not… by Julie Anne Peters


She shoves the tray between us and cuts through. The name on her badge reads FINN. I watch her dump the tray, load up the hot plates along her arm, then serpentine through the tables and chairs.

Dyke! my gaydar screams. She has that self-confident aura. Plus, she’s wearing carpenter shorts and leather hiking shoes. Dark curly leg hair. Hel-looo.

I have an unabashed soft spot for Julie Anne Peters’ young adult novels. The drama, the straight-up lady longing, the romantic clichés, the processing, the feelings—did I mention the drama? Peters is completely unafraid to throw absolutely everything at her characters, just to see how it will all pan out. One natural disaster too simple? Why not give ‘em two!

She Loves You, She Loves You Not… (2011) by Julie Anne Peters is a perfect example of the pulpy-romance on which Peters has built her career. Delightfully, this novel ends on a slightly more hopeful and lighter note than a few of her previous novels (Rage: A Love Story and Pretend You Love Me), but the ride to get there is no less emotion-fuelled or tender.

The protagonist, Alyssa, finds herself being flown across the country to the mountains of Colorado, leaving her father, step-mother and brother on the East Coast. What she will find or do in this tiny ranching town is totally beyond her, but she is determined to make her own way—without the help of her pole dancer-cum-prostitute mother.

Heartbroken by the rejection of her girlfriend and, subsequently, of her father has left her emotionally adrift. Despite the recent trauma, Alyssa is still firm in her identity. She has known she is a lesbian since she was thirteen. She has no qualms about her sexuality—no coming-out processing here!—but she’s not sure she ever wants to fall in love again. That shit hurts.

While I really appreciate Peters’ depiction of Alyssa’s sexuality, some may take issue with her portrayal of a few of the other secondary characters. For these characters, their sexual identities are not as fixed as Alyssa’s and thus, at first glance, they could appear to be falling into the biphobic trope of “you have to pick: are you gay or straight?” I’m not totally happy with how Peters’ handles these characters, but a more generous reading of them allows for something that is desperately needed in young adult fiction: fluidity. Teenagers, in general, are unsure of a lot of things about themselves, and sexuality can often be a part of that larger, looming question: Who am I? For including this in her novel, I give an encouraging nod to Peters.

Overall, She Loves You, She Loves You Not… is a charming summer read, for lady lovers of any age. I would say its a ‘beach read’ but the scenery of this novel plays such an intimate part of the story that I would actually call it a ‘lake read’ or ‘camping read’ instead! You can almost smell the dry summer air and feel the dust and hot sun on your skin… If you enjoy strong female protagonists, first love stories, and a bit of pulpy mountain drama, definitely pick up this novel this summer.

Erica Gillingham reviews The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel


I had heard of Dykes To Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel long before Bechdel published her first graphic memoir, Fun Home. But, not being one of the cool kids, I didn’t read it. Fast-forward many years, some Christmas money and one gay bookstore later and I finally had my very own copy of The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For in my lovely lady hands. The fun was to begin!

A collection of strips chronically the DTWOF series, published from 1987 to 2008, The Essential DTWOF is an incredible gift to those of us born too late to enjoy them in their initial incarnations. Bechdel opens the collection with a graphic introduction that not only gives insight into the origins and ethos of DTWOF but a smidgen of Bechdel’s wonderful madness. An intelligent, intense attention to detail that is necessary in order to so skillful combine personalities, identities, community, love and politics in comic form.

Like the opening of any novel, I carefully watched as these independent characters began to take on their full personalities: refractions of lesbian identities embodied in myriad guises, ticks, and quirks. But, unlike the plain written word, I also got to witness as Bechdel refined each character, moving from strength to strength in the comic: Mo and Toni’s quaffs reach nuanced status, Lois’s swagger oozes, and newspapers offer rotating headlines of the week.

Halfway through DTWOF I kept making excuses in avoidance of my daily life—“Emails can wait, right? I didn’t want to do dishes today anyway.”—in order to carry on reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the twists and complications and emotional freak-outs of these devoted heroines with each turn of the page. Politics and life become inextricable when the Bush years hit at the turn of the 21st century and reading gets a bit heavy. If I ever I needed a reminder of what it was like to live under the Bush administration, this comic reflects some of my biggest worries from that time. But, the characters continue as their engaging selves and the way Bechdel handles 9/11, well, let’s just say it’s pitch perfect.

For those that are looking for a tidy ending to an elegant series, you won’t find it here.  The comic ends as it begins: mid-moment in a community of messy, human lives. That said, there is a kind of relief in the final moments of The Essential DTWOF: it’s as if the video feed from the dykes’ world has been simply closed off with Mo, Sydney, Lois, Clarice, Toni, Ginger, Sparrow and the others carrying on without our watchful eye and it is our job, as the readers, to remember all that they taught us.

Erica Gillingham posted Between You & Me by Marisa Calin




Phyre, sixteen, that’s me! And this is my life. Or how I picture it. The door swings open and I smile up at you.


Come in. Close the door behind you.

Between You & Me by Marisa Calin is written as a film script. Short scenes, dialogue-heavy, and easily visualized, the format takes a brief adjustment but overall adds to the pace of this young adult novel. The narrator and protagonist Phyre dictates the film-like shots but her control ends there: she’s helpless in high-pressure situations. Without giving too much away, I’ll say briefly if you love theatre, ladylove triangles, and a slow burner, give this novel a read.

If you’re willing to have a few more details, Phyre is a sixteen-year old girl who aspires to be an actress one day. Her best friend is only known as “you”—we know some vague details about her, but never her name. The beginning of the school year brings student teacher, Mia, who will be teaching the fall semester’s theatre class. As soon as she walks on stage, Phyre is absolutely captivated. No one else exists but Mia but who is mesmerized by Phyre?

What I really like about this novel is the lovely, nuanced relationship between Phyre and her best friend. Yes, the title could indicate that this relationship will be central to the plot, but I was pleasantly surprised by the execution. In Between Me & You, Calin delivers a real, honest friendship between two girls that is tender and low-drama. I was alongside Phyre in her unrequited love for teacher Mia (who hasn’t been there, right?) and rooting for ‘you’ to finally say what she wants to say.

If you’re a reader of young adult novels with lesbian or bi characters, you’ll know that sometimes the big ‘gay’ issue can dictate the plot. Refreshingly, this is not the case here. When Phyre realizes her crush on Mia, there is no big fuss, stressful freak out, or coming out talk. In fact, there is no mention of labels or identity crises at all. Just attraction, infatuation, and one glorious kiss to seal the deal. Happy reading!

Between Me & You is the debut novel by Marisa Calin.